Category Archives: Health

If I Could Go Back My Wedding Day, I’d Whisper This Into My Own Ear

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Today is our ten-year anniversary. Taken as a whole, a decade seems to have blinked by. But taken in pieces, it has been a long, strange, wild ride. I almost lost John after just our first year of marriage. We fought back from his cancer and liver transplant together. We have climbed mountains together, rafted rivers, trekked through the Himalayas, sailed and surfed and skied and loved each other through worldly adventures and daily rituals.

July 16, 2005

July 16, 2005

When I look back at the woman I was ten years ago today, when I vowed to love and cherish my husband, I was a different person. I was younger, of course, full of optimism and the kind of blind faith that makes us want to cleave ourselves to another person for all of eternity, but I was also pretty naïve. While I thought on my wedding day that I was wise and mature and knew exactly what I wanted out of life, I also wasn’t fully formed yet. Back then I hadn’t been tested like I have now. I hadn’t yet watched my husband lying emaciated in a hospital bed wondering if he would ever wake up. I hadn’t yet held his hand while his mother took her last breath. I hadn’t yet cried in his arms in grief after losing my dad.

Call it an accumulation of experiences—the kind of self-awareness that comes from witnessing ourselves manage crises and joys, trials and triumphs. But when I look back at that bride, I want to treat her kindly, to pat her hand and tell her that while it might not be easy, it will be worth it.

If I could go back and whisper into the ear of that former self, I know what I would say. I would tell that blissful bride to accept each moment, to stop trying to orchestrate her life and simply be present for it. I would remind her to enjoy every moment with this man she was committing herself to. I would tell her that while life can’t be lived easily, it can be lived fully. I would tell her not to take everything so personally.

It is easy to look back at our former selves and access our growth. It is much harder to look ahead and imagine how we will be ten years from now. If I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit that the next ten years probably won’t be as rosy as I’d like to think. Life always has a way of messing with your best intentions. But there’s one thing I do know. Whatever lies ahead for us we will face it together.

After ten years of marriage, I know that I’m lucky to have John as my husband. He challenges me to be the best version of myself (admittedly, this isn’t something I’m keen to appreciate all that often, but still). He’s strong when I’m weak. He’s even-keeled when I drop my basket. He pushes on towards camp when I want to set down my pack and lie, exhausted, on the hard ground.

Today I celebrate what we’ve accomplished and shared so far. Here’s to the next ten years.

Who Needs Wifi When There’s Lions?

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Ten years ago, when John and I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro for the first time, we decided that someday we’d bring his kids. Last week, we returned from that family trip to Tanzania. It was a trip of a lifetime.

Evelyn, Kim, Andrew and John at Stella Point on the crater rim

Evelyn, Kim, Andrew and John at Stella Point on the crater rim

Climbing Kilimanjaro is no easy feat. At 19,341 feet, Kili is the tallest mountain on the African continent. We took the Machame Route, also known as the Whiskey Route because it’s hard, and spent six nights and seven days on the mountain. The climb is really more of a trek at altitude. The entire route is on a trail. Most days the trail is steep, but the views are stunning.

Sunrise just steps below the crater rim

Sunrise just steps below the crater rim

When we first envisioned it a decade ago, John’s daughter, Evelyn, was three years old. Instagram wasn’t even invented yet. But today in the summer of 2015 both Evelyn, and to a lesser degree her older brother Andrew, suck in wifi bandwidth like we used to draw breath.

Andrew sucking up every last breath at sunrise near the summit.

Andrew sucking it up at sunrise.

Before we left, my concern for the kids focused more on fitness level and blister-proofing their new hiking boots than on how often they’d need to update their social media sites. Between dance classes and end-of-school-year sleepovers Evelyn couldn’t find the time to break in her new hiking boots. Even while I imagined blisters and bloody toes, I had to admit that her new boots didn’t even seem that difficult to break in. Andrew, on the other hand, is a college ski racer. Toughness runs in his blood, and I knew that his biggest challenge would be waiting for the rest of us to catch up with him.

The toilet at 16,000 foot high camp

The toilet at 16,000 foot high camp

What I didn’t think much of before we left was what happens to kids without a constant Internet connection. Do they shrivel and die, like a raisin in the sun? Or would they revel in the beauty of mountains, humming the Sound of Music soundtrack to themselves while sipping tea in their tents?

Another long day on the trail

Another long day on the trail

The climb was a challenge. It was also beautiful and amazing and inspiring. Evelyn told me the day before the summit that if she didn’t make it to the top, she’d be disappointed at herself. When we were just steps from the top, and she wanted to turn back, I reminded her of her promise to herself. She continued on. Andrew made it to the crater rim while his lung were filling with fluid. The guides turned him around at Stella Point, but he’d done the hard part. He didn’t let on to any of us the depth of his struggle, and it turned out to be the most herculean physical effort I’ve ever witnessed. I will forever be in awe of him, even while I wish he would have turned around earlier for his own sake.

Feeling revelatory at the summit

Feeling revelatory at the summit (who put those Crystal and Big Sky stickers up?)

Climbing a mountain is simple. You just put one foot in front of the other until there’s no where further to go. When John, Evelyn and I stepped onto Uhuru Peak, the highest peak on Kilimanjaro together, I felt something new. The air is so thin, it feels like floating a inside a helium balloon. But attached to your feet are lead weights. There’s a strange disconnect between your head and your heavy boots, and it cracked open something inside me.

All of the challenges of the past few years came streaming out of that crack. The worries, the anxiety, the loss and pain just leaked out.

Where there be lions

Where there be lions

A few days later we camped in Serengeti National Park. We stayed in luxurious wall tents complete with running water (real toilets!) and big beds. At night we could hear lions. They exhale in a low rumble, then call out to the other cats in a long hooooooo sound. It’s strange and eery and totally amazing to listen to amidst the myriad of other African sounds.

"If you can't climb it, drink it!"

“If you can’t climb it, drink it!”

Evelyn isn’t the kind of kid that’s going to raise her hands and proclaim the “hills are alive.” She’s subtler and a whole lot wiser than that. The first morning after sleeping with the lions, she said something even better. She claimed this as the best trip she’d ever been on. “And you know what?” She went on. “Lions are better than wifi.”

Coming from a 13-year-old that’s about as high of praise as you can get. Trip of a lifetime indeed.

This is Great Storytelling: Dorais by Fitz Cahall

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It is true that we become our truest selves when things go awry. The way we respond to the tumult that often passes for real life speaks volumes about who we are. But it is also true that our character is not fixed. Even if we break from the pressure today, that doesn’t mean we can’t hold ourselves together tomorrow. We can always strive to be better. Dorais, a video by Fitz Cahall and produced by Duct Tape Then Beer, tells the story of the Dorais family. The two Dorais brothers, Andy and Jason, both ER docs and mountaineers, are skimo champions. They are strong, they are fast and they are badass. This is not a story about them. It is a story about Jason’s wife Amanda. She has stage 4 cancer. I understand what it means to stand by a loved one while battling cancer. I know, too, that the lessons wrought from the experience almost make it worth. Almost, but not quite. This is a beautiful story. Please watch.

What a Year of “Meh” Taught Me

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Last weekend, Crystal Mountain closed for the season. While its always a little sad to see it all end, this season my heart wasn’t nearly as heavy as usual. This time it was almost a relief.

Bill Steel Cartoon

Dreaming of Snow. Cartoon by Bill Steel

In a word, this season was “weird.”

But it wasn’t just the snow–or lack thereof–that was weird for me. On a personal level, it’s been a difficult year and a half. After my father passed away last year, fate or circumstance or maybe just my own personal luck went rogue. In the past several months, my husband’s mother passed away, our house was broken into (and the few remaining physical memories of my father were taken), and our best friends got a divorce.

Not one to shy away from adversity, I’ve tried taking these challenges head on. But really, it’s been an exercise in letting go. Just let go. That’s such a cliche though, right? Anyone who’s been through a string of hard times knows what I’m talking about. When the chips are down, the last thing you want to do is relinquish the emotional baggage that you’re clinging to for dear life.

That’s the beauty of getting older, I suppose. Experience (and when I say experience, what I’m really saying is loss) teaches us what truly matters. My father’s stolen watch, or the heart-shaped necklace that he gave me on my 30th birthday, will not bring him back. Nor will my husband’s grandfather’s antique fly reels bring him closer to his ancestor. Our memories and our experiences are what cleave us to one another. Objects are just things–just mementos imbued with meaning. Emotions can be glued to any old object.

Same for our hopes. We can pin them on snowfall or weather or that elusive powder run we dream about all summer and chase all winter. They can be dashed against the gravel on a season like this when the lower half of the mountain was so bare that grass starting sprouting in March.

Sometimes you just want to bury your head in your hands

Sometimes you just want to bury your head in your hands

Or we can connect to the chances we are given. A stingy snow season taught me to enjoy even the runs I would have considered merely “meh” a few years ago. Since so much of who we are depends on the stories we tell ourselves, I’m choosing to rewrite history. Instead of the past year and a half being the worst ever, I’ve chosen to see it as an opportunity. Thanks to that home invasion, I have fewer possessions weighing me down. With fewer snow storms, I never took a single turn for granted. Now that I’ve experienced the fragility of life and relationships, I’m living my own life with more purpose and attention.

Many readers have asked why I haven’t been posting as much. In part, it might be that I’ve been preoccupied with these life lessons. Mostly however, I’m working on another book, which is hoarding much of my writing mojo. The novel about a ski area will soon be with my agent, and I’ll keep y’all posted on its progress.

A Daughter’s Tribute to Her Father

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My father passed away a few days ago due to complications from multiple myeloma.

Daddy's Girl

Daddy’s Girl

He was diagnosed just a year ago, and now he’s gone. For the past several days, I’ve been by his side, helping to ease his pain. On Saturday, after the doctors broke the news that there was nothing more to be done, we brought him home.

Even in the midst of tragedy, Dad kept his sense of humor. He said he wanted to finally get that tattoo he’d always wanted but been too chicken. He told me other things too. That he was proud of me. That I had to take care of Mom. That he wasn’t scared.

Mom, Dad and the kids

The Huleens 2013

It is quite a thing to watch your father quickly decline, to witness an outpouring of love and admiration from others that he touched, to align your heart with others and wrap that communal love around him as if to protect him and usher him on to the next life.

I had my arms around him as he took his last breath. Mom held one side while I held the other and my brother pressed his hand to Dad’s chest. He was surrounded by love. Moments after he passed, the pain on his face was gone. Every wrinkle was erased. He looked as handsome in death as he had in life.

Sun Valley circa 1981

Sun Valley circa 1981

Dad taught me many things. Most importantly, he showed me that I was important. He gave me a sense of purpose that what I do in this world matters. He taught me that life may be short, but we can live well. He taught me to seize every moment, to care deeply for others, to cry openly, to love wholeheartedly, to laugh, to dance, to ski.

I will miss him.

Ultra Man Rich Roll

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Rich Roll

Endurance athlete Rich Roll

What allows a man to go from 50 pounds overweight, struggling with alcoholism to one of the 25 fittest humans in the world in just two years? Rich Roll made this journey after a sobering wake up call.

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Today he is running ultra triathlons, living clean on an entirely plant-based diet and spreading his gospel through his book and popular podcasts.

Just a few years ago, Rich was depressed, overweight and drinking too much. Approaching 40, Rich had a health scare. Instead of ignoring it, Rich committed himself to changing his ways. He revamped his diet, reignited his love for swimming and launched a middle-aged assault on the Ultraman World Championships, one of the most daunting endurance races in the world.

Finding Ultra_Rich Roll

Finding Ultra, by author Rich Roll

Two years later, 50 pounds lighter, and fueled by nothing but plants, he surprised the triathlon & ultra communities by not only becoming the first vegan to complete the 320-mile über-endurance event, but by finishing in the top 10 males (3rd fastest American) with the 2nd fastest swim split — all despite having never previously completed even a half-ironman distance triathlon.

In 2009, Rich returned to Ultraman twice the athlete he was the year prior. Despite a stacked field, he took home first day honors with a blistering 2:21 swim victory (6th fastest of all time) and a third fastest bike leg to win the day with a 10 minute lead on the field. On Day 2 Richard suffered a serious bike crash but managed to salvage the day in 6th place overall. With an injured knee and shoulder Richard nonetheless went on to a 7:51 Day 3 double-marathon to hold onto 6th place overall.

In May 2010 Rich and fellow ultra-athlete Jason Lester succeeded in their EPIC5 quest—an unprecedented feat of astounding endurance that encompassed completing 5 ironman distance triathlons on 5 separate islands of Hawaii in under 7 days. Rich recounts his inspirational story in his bestselling book FINDING ULTRA.

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But what makes Rich truly remarkable is that less than two years prior to his first Ultraman, he didn’t even own a bike, let alone race one.

This man is on fire, and I’m pleased to have him join me on The Edge this week. Tune in Wednesday morning at 8am Pacific.

Meriwether Distillery: The Very Best Use of Your Liver

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Transplants, Avalanche Bombs and Other Adventures

Transplants, Avalanche Bombs and Other Adventures

Five years ago Whitney Meriwether made an amazing sacrifice. He let the surgeons at the Mayo Clinic split him open, take half his liver and give it to my husband in a procedure known as a living donor liver transplantation. I wrote about the transplant–and many other exciting things–in my memoir  (insert shameless plug here).

In other words, Whitney saved John’s life.

I remember driving the two of them home from the hospital after surgery to our little apartment we kept in Rochester, MN during the ordeal and overhearing this conversation (or something like it):

John: Now that we’re out of the hospital, what should we do next?

Whitney: I’ve always wanted to make something, to create something with my hands.

John: You should make vodka!

Maybe that wasn’t the exact words, but you get the gist.

PrintWhitney is a man of his word. Once he sets his sites on something, he’s like a pitbull. He doesn’t let go easily.

Meriwether Distillery is now producing Speakeasy Vodka, and it’s very good. He’s also got a kickstarter campaign going. I encourage you to check it out and support his efforts. Because, after all, vodka is the very best use of a liver. Just saying.

Kickstarter Campaign

Kickstarter Campaign: Click for More Info

Here’s a little more from their website:

“For this project we are hoping to raise $50,000. This seed money will go to our new distillation equipment and allow us to update and prepare our site for higher production and the addition of three new products to the Speakeasy family in the next twelve months. We appreciate you taking the time to read and thank you for your backing. Please tell anyone and everyone you can think of to check us out. Thanks!”